When the Dodgers traded for Craig Kimbrel near the end of spring training, they hoped they were getting the version of Kimbrel that posted a dominant 0.49 ERA for the Cubs in the first half of last season. Instead, so far this season, the results look more like the version of Kimbrel that had a 5.09 ERA after being traded across town to the White Sox at the 2021 trade deadline.
Of course, the underlying stats say there aren’t many similarities between Kimbrel’s time with the White Sox and his time with the Dodgers. Home runs were his big issue on the south side of Chicago, as he posted a 5.1 percent home run rate that is more than double his career rate. This season, his home run rate is actually just 1.0 percent, the best of his career, but he’s been bitten by bad luck on balls in play, allowing a BABIP of .378, a full 115 points higher than his career BABIP allowed.
Not all BABIP is the result of bad luck, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts talked last week about some approach changes he’d like to see Kimbrel make. Pitching more often in more favorable counts would likely lead to worse quality of contact, which would cause the BABIP to go down.
All in all, as Roberts tried to help Kimbrel start getting results to match his still-outstanding stuff, it appears there will be a slightly different approach to Kimbrel’s usage going forward. While he’s still the “closer,” the Dodgers will be less focused on save situations when getting Kimbrel work, as evidenced by his closing out of a 10-3 victory on Sunday.
Roberts had this to say, as quoted by J.P. Hoornstra in the Orange County Register:
“Clearly we’re going with the approach of trying to get him consistent work,” Roberts said. “He’s a guy that’s closed many games, the biggest of (high) leverage (situations). My talks with him, it’s more of getting him consistently out there so he gets the feel. Then when it gets to a save situation he can fall back on what he’s been doing as opposed to picking save spots in particular and only using him in those situations.
“We’ve got his buy-in, and today was a really efficient, really good outing for him.”
One of the many benefits of having an insurmountable lead in the NL West division race and a large lead over the Mets for the best record in baseball is the ability to ignore some of the “must win today” mentality and focus more on the big picture. Kimbrel has a history of being a dominant closer, and if he can “get the feel,” as Roberts said, the Dodgers are a better team in October. So the approach to just focus on Kimbrel getting consistent work, regardless of the score or game situation, seems like the right one.
The results on Sunday were very good, at least. A few more games like that would go a long way towards Kimbrel’s confidence and the fans’ confidence in him.
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